Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on his or her race, color, sex, religion or national origin (see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today that a Detroit-based funeral home operator discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing a Garden City, Michigan, funeral director/embalmer due to the fact that she is transgender, because she was transitioning from male to female, and/or because she did not conform to the employer’s gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes.
In December 2012, the EEOC adopted a Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for sex discrimination to include “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions…” as a top Commission enforcement policy.
Harris is a funeral home company with multiple establishments in and around the Detroit area. Amiee Stephens had been employed by Harris as a Funeral Director/Embalmer since October 2007. During her tenure, she had always adequately performed the duties of that position. In 2013, she gave Harris a letter explaining she had decided to undergo a gender transition from male to female, and would soon start to present (e.g., dress) in appropriate business attire at work, compatible with her gender identity as a woman. Two weeks later, Harris’ owner fired Stephens, telling her that what she was “proposing to do” was intolerable.
The Commission has relied on rationale from well-settled Supreme Court precedent regarding sex discrimination. The Commission and the Court recognize that when an employer considers an employee’s sex in taking an adverse action – for example, if an employer terminates a transgender employee based on its judgment that the employee does not conform to the employer’s stereotypes regarding how someone “born” that sex should live or look – the employer will violate Title VII.